Vine time on an Auck­land is­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KA­T­RINA LOBLEY

Syd­ney and Auck­land share sev­eral things — gnarled traf­fic, eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive real es­tate and a CBD un­der­go­ing end­less re­mod­elling. Yet New Zealand’s most pop­u­lous city has one up on its Aus­tralian coun­ter­part when it comes to neat week­end es­capes, for Syd­ney doesn’t have Wai­heke Is­land, a 35-minute ferry hop from down­town. Once a hip­pie hang­out, these days it’s home to about two dozen winer­ies and it can be hard to nab a seat on the ferry on a sum­mery Satur­day morn­ing.

The is­land has its own mi­cro­cli­mate — it’s drier and warmer than Auck­land, 20km away — which is why it’s so good at grow­ing grapes and at­tract­ing thou­sands of day-trip­pers. I ar­rive on the kind of day that makes you want to move coun­tries. It’s also mid­week, which means there’s room for me at The Oys­ter Inn, a mi­cro-ho­tel that’s really a restau­rant with rooms.

The inn, oc­cu­py­ing a site that was once the is­land’s news­pa­per of­fice, chan­nels a ca­sual yet lux­u­ri­ous beach­side vibe. The up­stairs restau­rant and a down­stairs bou­tique oc­cupy the street frontage while three stylish gue­strooms are tucked be­hind a door.

Ev­ery­thing about Room One makes me want to move in on a more per­ma­nent ba­sis. I adore the soft merino throw draped over the king­size bed and the stack of books at its foot, the over­sized Ae­sop toi­letries (ecofriendly; none of those tiny plas­tic bot­tles here) and the sunny yel­low-white striped beach tow­els. These mem­o­rable touches are no sur­prise, given the own­ers’ back­grounds in hos­pi­tal­ity and haute fash­ion. Jonathan Ruther­furd Best used to throw high-wattage celebrity par­ties around Lon­don while his part­ner, An­drew Glenn, once worked for Louis Vuit­ton.

Both have strong lo­cal roots. Ruther­furd Best was born and raised on the North Is­land while Glenn, who has a New Zealan­der fa­ther, grew up in Hong Kong. After fall­ing in love with Wai­heke, they won­dered how they could fash­ion new lives here. A gap in the din­ing scene — “No one was do­ing seafood,” says Glenn — prompted them to open The Oys­ter Inn in 2012.

After touch­ing down at Auck­land air­port at 5pm, I make it in time to dine at the inn, feast­ing on ku­mara sour­dough, oys­ters from Kaipara Har­bour north­west of Auck­land, fish with Viet­namese slaw and a banof­feethemed pud­ding. Now that it’s dark, Wai­heke’s scale is hard for me to grasp (it sprawls over 92sq km) but Glenn fills me in on prac­ti­cal­i­ties.

The pub­lic bus will get me around part of the is­land but to reach the east coast, where the oft-rec­om­mended Man O’War Vine­yards, which made the chardon­nay I’m slurp­ing, is lo­cated, I’ll need rental wheels. I haven’t packed my driver’s li­cence so it’s the bus for me.

That op­tion still gets me close to one of Glenn’s favourite winer­ies, Te Motu, in the is­land’s in­te­rior, which spe­cialises in the Bordeaux blends that first put Wai­heke on the wine­mak­ing map. Its 2013 Kokoro (an ex­tra­or­di­nary run of weather pro­duced an epic 2013 vin­tage on Wai­heke) turns out to be so smooth I can see why it made a re­cent list of the top 100 best new-re­lease wines from Aus­trala­sia.

If you need a lie-down after the tast­ing, head next door. After wob­bling along a drive­way shaded by planted wind­breaks and pass­ing a man­i­cured he­li­pad, I ar­rive at Stonyridge Vine­yard, where vis­i­tors lounge on over­sized lawn cush­ions, cradling wine glasses as mu­sic wafts through the air. What fun.

On an­other day, I lunch at Mud­brick Vine­yard and Restau­rant, where din­ers gaze across Euro­pean-style clipped gar­dens to Auck­land’s sky­line. Of course, word is well and truly out about mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar views like these. A savvy vis­i­tor books beds and ta­bles on Wai­heke well in ad­vance or vis­its in off-peak times.

With so many plea­sures at hand, it’s easy to see why some vis­i­tors start dream­ing of own­ing a piece of Wai­heke (or a sec­tion, to use the lo­cal par­lance).

The Oys­ter Inn sits within a con­stel­la­tion of real es­tate agen­cies aimed at re­al­is­ing these fan­tasies, whether an old-fash­ioned shack (bach) or a more mod­ern beach house. I pass an agency with its glass doors flung open to the warm af­ter­noon breeze. In­side, peo­ple are lift­ing glasses of what I pre­sume is a fine Wai­heke red.

Looks like some­one else just signed on the dot­ted line.

Ka­t­rina Lobley was a guest of Princess Cruises and The Oys­ter Inn.

The Oys­ter Inn, top; gue­stroom, top right; the inn’s Kombi trans­fer van, above; lo­cal oys­ters, be­low

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